Do you want the red pill or the blue pill?
I started selling products on amazon around 2015. My first product was an essential oil called Tamanu Oil. It was not long before my Tamanu Oil was the number one ranked tamanu oil on amazon. Honestly it was not that tough as there were not many tamanu oils available. I kept that number one spot for a few years, but eventually that changed. More and more sellers started selling the oil on amazon as well. My sales began to fall and my ranking on amazon began to fall as well. I saw that the tamanu oils outranking mine were incredibly cheap. Mine is $15 for one ounce, while many of these new ones were priced for as little as $10 for 4 ounces. All of a sudden my product looked extremely expensive.
I began to wonder about these cheap oils and how they were priced so low. I had been sending my own oil to a lab in Canada for purity testing, so I bought a few of these cheap oils and shipped them off to be tested as well. You see, there are laboratories that can test essential oils to see if they really are what they claim to be. At reputable labs, scientists with training in plants can run various tests. Its complex but to simplify it, they compare the amounts of various fats in the oil against another oil (the reference) that they know to be authentic. They look to see if oil a is similar to the reference oil b. If it is then oil a is deemed authentic. If its not they deem oil a to be fake. They don’t say “fake” but rather use the scientific term, “adulterated”.
And guess what they said about these cheap tamanu oils I sent to them? Adulterated. But I already knew that. There was no way a real tamanu oil could be priced that low.
And so began my distrust of the wellness products industry. My sales eventually plummeted 80%. Shoppers didn’t know what I knew. All they saw was the price tag and what they thought was a huge bargain. Little did they know they were not buying what they thought they were buying.
So if these oils are not tamanu oil, what are they? You’re guess is as good as mine. Only the manufacturer who is making these fake oils knows what is really in it. It could be anything. But the ingredients list on the bottle will say “100% tamanu oil”.
With sales plummeting I started thinking about new products I could sell. I knew of people having success in the nutrition category so I started researching it heavily. First I wanted to know if the nutrition products industry was as bad as the essential oils industry in terms of the amount of deceit. It didn’t take long to find out it also had its share of sketchiness regarding ingredient truthfulness.
What I’m about to tell you may be hard to believe for some people. For that reason I’m going to follow it up with evidence that you can go look at for yourself if you choose.
Here is what I found in my research:
Ingredients lists are not always truthful. There are just too many products – millions in fact – for the FDA to try to police. This is the reason the FDA can not check a product’s authenticity before it gets to the market. With millions of supplements and other nutrition products on the market, the FDA doesn’t have the resources or manpower to check all of them before they get to market.
Perhaps one of the biggest examples of a false ingredients list is a supplement called Ginko Biloba. Stefan Gafner Phd of the American Botanical Council wrote an extensive piece outlining many examples of of false ingredients labels with this particular supplement. You can read the piece yourself here
Some examples from this article of false ingredient labels with this particular supplement are:
“In 2010, the German Central Laboratory for Pharmacists (Zentrallaboratorium Deutscher Apotheker) investigated 10 ginkgo food supplements purchased in Germany. The researchers calculated the quercetin/(kaempferol + isorhamnetin) ratio after hydrolysis, and found a range of 0.8 – 1.2 for authentic ginkgo leaf material. However, in seven of the ten commercial samples, the ratio was above 1.7 (1.78 – 7.70), suggesting that these products were adulterated.”
In simplified terms its saying seven out of the ten samples they tested were likely not an authentic ginko biloba. As to what exactly they are is impossible to say. But their labels probably say 100% ginko biloba, which is not true. The point is that you don’t know what it is. I don’t know about you, but if I take something, I want to know what it is that I’m taking. If there are some studies that show benefits from using a pure ginko biloba, then it can be said that you will likely not get those benefits taking one that is not pure.
For people with food sensitivities, it’s especially important that you know 100% what it is that you are taking. If ingredient lists are not truthful then how do you know you are not taking something that might upset your stomach?
Here are some other examples from the same article:
“The adulteration of ginkgo extracts with pure flavonoids or flavonoid-rich extracts was also detailed in 2011. In this study, Chandra et al. reported that chromatographic profiles of three out of eight products labeled to contain ginkgo extracts closely resembled those of commercial extracts obtained from Japanese sophora.”
Translation: Three out of eight samples labeled as ginko were actually Japanese Sophoro , which is a completely different plant. Or they were a mix of ginko and Japanese sophoro, but its unknown what the mix was. Was it 80% Japanese sophoro? No one knows. But one thing is for sure, the ingredients list did not list Japanese sophoro as an ingredient.
Another supplement with well known adulteration is Rhodiola rosea, a supplement used for things such as anxiety and stress. In this study
40 products were analyzed. Close to half of them (about 40%) were found to be adulterated , ie fake. Think about that for a second. 40 products for sale on the market say Rhodiola rosea on the label, yet half of them are not. And once again since the ingredients list is false, that means you don’t know what is actually in the product. It could literally be anything. Do you want to put something in your body when you don’t know what it is?
I could go on all day with more examples. But hopefully the point is getting across. And that point is this:
Ingredients lists are not always factual.
My greatest challenge has been how to explain to people that ingredients lists are not always true. The reason it’s such a challenge is because for many, this goes directly against something they have believed their entire lives. And for many, its something that they don’t want to believe. It reminds me of the movie The Matrix. In it the main character is offered two pills: a red one or a blue one. If he takes the red one, he’ll be shown his actual reality – one that is desolate, grim and sad - not his current, pleasant reality he has always known. He if takes the blue pill he won’t be shown his true reality, and he can go on living in state of ignorant bliss. They mention how for some who take the red pill, the truth is so unnerving they have a nervous breakdown and are unable to recover.
I’m not sure if people will believe me or not. The best I can do is offer as much proof as I can and hope that people are able to see it.
And what about super greens, also called greens powders?
Most sellers are trying to make the most they can from a super greens. In order to do this, they need to buy their ingredients at the lowest price they can. This typically means buying from either China or India. If many of the ingredients are coming from India then its worth taking a look at the authenticity of food and supplement products made in India as a whole.
Any food product coming out of India is more suspect simply because the country’s standards for food and supplement quality are known to be much lower than other countries. To demonstrate just look at this publication from India’s own food safety authority. The Annual Public Laboratory Testing Report for 2014-15 by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) indicates that of the 49,290 samples of food items it tested, 8,469, nearly one-fifth, were found adulterated or misbranded. That’s 20% folks.
And China’s standards for food quality? Let’s just say its not on the same level as the US. One can refer to the scientific article on Rhodiola rosea already mentioned as China is one of the biggest growers of this plant. Also this wikipedia article is a good reference:
The next thing that leads me to be highly suspicious of the ingredients label on super greens is that most of them don’t mention two common fillers, silicon dioxide or maltodextrin, as an ingredient. You see, fruit powders typically need one of these fillers to keep them from clumping. And these mixes always have many fruit ingredients. Furthermore they often have fruit juice powders, and most juice powders can’t be made without a carrier.
Yet as I said, I almost never see these ingredients listed. Which makes me think, if they have left that off the list, what else are they leaving off? Or what else in the ingredients list is not accurate?
Then there is the 3rd party testing. All these super greens have “3rd party tested” written somewhere on the listing, yet they never mention what test was done nor do they show you these test results. This is like going to the doctor where he checks you over and then says “you’re going to need surgery”. So you say “Ok, why do I need surgery?” And he says “Well, just because.” You would probably be wondering how that conclusion was made. This is similar to how I feel every time I see “3rd party tested” on a listing yet there are no test results shown. What was tested? Who did the test? There is so much important info being left out.
An ID test is a test in a lab that confirms that an ingredient is what it says it is. We already talked about sellers substituting claimed ingredients for cheaper inferior ingredients, as was the case with Rhodiola rosea. Or a cheaper oil like palm oil being substituted for olive oil. An ID test can show if this has been done or not.
Most people that use super greens use one that has many different ingredients mixed together. One of the more popular ones has 46 different ingredients (one of which is Rhodiola). With a product like this, there certainly is no ID test done, because its impossible. Once 46 ingredients are mixed up together, you can no longer ID test. There are too many similar ingredients mixed
together. A lab technician is not able to tell so many similar ingredients apart. Its kind of like, if sugar was mixed with pepper you could tell the sugar from the pepper. But if I showed you salt mixed with sugar, you would not be able to tell one from the other.
The only way to ID test all 46 ingredients would be to test each one of them separately , before they are thrown into the mix. A comprehensive ID test for one ingredient from a qualified lab costs around $250. There is no way a seller is going to pay over $10k to test 46 ingredients every time they make a batch. They may test one ingredient, but it’s not a comprehensive ID test. Rather its a much more limited type of ID test. Its kind of like a test to see if the book The Hunger Games is actually that book. A less comprehensive ID test will only look at the front cover to see if the title says “The Hunger Games” but it won’t open the book to see if the pages are actually for that book. It’s a limited test that does not prove the ID even for that one ingredient.
And so concludes my attempt to lift the curtain on this industry, and let you in to see what I see. If you’ve read this far, you took the red pill, and you know the truth.
Heavy metal contamination and Super Green Powders - what you should know.
Super Greens can have several different names. They can be called green powders or green superfoods. They can come in a powder form but sometimes capsule form. Regardless of the form, they are all produce that has been dehydrated and then ground into powder. This makes for an alternative way to consume produce; often an easier way as it can be stored for long periods without going bad. In addition this can be easier to consume since there is little preparation involved. It can be added to a quick smoothie or even mixed with water.
Lately greens powders are becoming more popular, yet most people are not aware of heavy metal levels in super greens.
Before we dig deeper it helps that you know what this is if you don’t already.
What do I mean when I say “heavy metals”? Here is Science Direct’s definition: Heavy metals are a group of metals and metalloids that have relatively high density and are toxic even at ppb levels”. My layman’s definition is this: Stuff found naturally in the environment that is ok to ingest at very low levels, but can be harmful if ingested at high levels. The ones that matter when it comes to food are lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury.
Why does this matter? Some major government groups such as the World Health Organization and the EPA have said that at high levels, these substances are carcinogenic. Carcinogenic means that it could cause cancer or increases the risk of cancer.
For produce grown in developed countries such as Europe, USA and Japan this is typically not something to be overly concerned about. The issue arises when the ingredients for super green products come from developing countries such as India and China, where regulatory standards are not as high. These countries also have high levels of pollution in some regions, and produce are often a sponge for the elements in the environment around them. If there is high pollution in the environment, those pollutants could be soaked up by the produce grown there. In China the pollution can get so bad it actually blocks out the sun, making it look like dusk in the middle of the day.
A lot of sellers will write “3rd party tested” somewhere on the listing or on the product. On amazon at least, sellers are supposed to lab test their products, but the testing requirements are not very comprehensive, and heavy metals testing is not one of the requirements for the test.
If you’d like, you can read amazon’s testing requirements here
It’s tricky to understand all of amazon’s testing requirements, but not hard to see that metals testing is not mentioned. It also says that all ingredients need to be tested. Amazon’s official policy and what they actually enforce are two different things. If a multivitamin has 20 different ingredients, amazon is not going to require that the product be tested for all 20 ingredients, because amazon knows how expensive that would be for the seller. However they will require that at least one of the ingredients be tested.
So if a seller writes “3rd party tested”, but don’t show you the actual test result, it doesn’t mean much, because you don’t know what tests they did.
Going back to heavy metals, one might wonder what are considered safe levels. The food and drug administration does not set limits for heavy metals, though in a few cases they have set “guidance” for certain products such as arsenic in baby food. The state of California has their Proposition 65, though this is not a required limit to sell a product. Rather it is a requirement for labeling of a product sold in California if it exceeds a certain level of heavy metals. A few private organizations have come up with metals limits that they deem safe, including the AHPA (American Herbal Products Association).
This brings us back to super greens. Regardless of what level of metals is safe or possibly unsafe, the case I’m making is that people should at least be shown what the levels are, so that they can make that determination for themselves. If these levels are not known, then they could literally be anything. They could be sky high. They could be zero. We have no idea.
Now, I’m not trying to make people paranoid. As mentioned, for ingredients that come from the EU ( Europe), Japan, USA and Canada I don’t think there is reason to all of a sudden stop eating them just because you don’t know the metal limits. It’s the ingredients that come from less developed countries like South America, China and India that cause me to at least want to know what the levels are.
PUR360 greens are tested for heavy metals on every batch. But more importantly , the actual test results are right there to see. Our levels are below the limits proposed by the American Herbal Products Association. Also, our ingredients originate in either Europe, Canada or the US.
Other references: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/chemistry/heavy-metal
The Drying Process of Green Powders
Greens powders need to be dehydrated so that they can stay stable and not go bad quickly. What most people don’t realize is that there are several ways to do this and some ways are much better than others for keeping the nutritional value. I’ll talk about the three most common methods.
The first is air drying, also called heat drying or oven drying. As the name implies, this method uses high heat to dry the produce quickly. This is the cheapest method because it takes the least amount of time. Most of the greens powders on the market are dried this way. Because this method uses the highest amount of heat, the produce retains the least amount of nutrients since high heat degrades many nutrients in produce.
The next method is spray drying. With this method the juice is extracted from the produce and then it is the juice that is dried via spraying. This method also uses very high heat. Since the product is only the juice, these powders have none of the beneficial fiber of the produce. Often times a greens juice powder will say on its label that it is a regular powder with the fiber and not a juice powder. There is no way for a consumer to know one from the other. Only comprehensive lab testing is able to tell if the product is a powder with the fiber or a juice powder. It’s my belief there are several products on the market that are juice powders claiming to be freeze dried (freeze dried method is explained last).
Juice powders keep the vibrant color of the original produce. I honestly don’t know why this is. I looked for someone with experience in spray drying who could explain it to me but could not find anyone. I hope in the future to find someone who has worked in this process so that I can understand it better. One thing I did learn is that the nature of the spray drying process usually requires that a filler such as maltodextrin or silicon dioxide is added in. However this additive is almost always left off the ingredients list. I’ve seen this filler make up as much as 20% of the product, yet it was not listed in the ingredients. The product label stated it was 100% pure.
Lastly we have freeze drying. This method dries the produce using the least amount of heat. Therefore this method retains the most nutrients of all three methods, in some cases four times more nutrients. This is the most expensive method because it is a much slower process, therefore freeze dried powders will always cost more than high heat dried ones. But if you want the best for your health, this is the way to go. Freeze dried also retain more of the original taste, smell and especially color vs heat dried. However spray dried juice powders somehow retain the same amount of color as freeze dried, even though this method uses a lot of heat. As I mentioned you will sometimes see a product labeled as freeze dried when it is actually spray dried as it is hard to tell the difference without a lab test.
1. Dry Matter Content and Stability of Carotenoids in Kale and Spinach During Drying Mark Lefsrud
If you use super greens or have been thinking about using them, I hope this knowledge can help you in your shopping decisions. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what I have learned over the last two years as I worked to bring my own super greens to market. I plan to write many more articles sharing my knowledge. If you entered your email to receive this article then you’re already in the best place to make sure you get them, as you are already on the email list. If you are not on the email list or you used an email you do not check, then go to the link below and subscribe with an email that you do check if you want to make sure to receive future articles.
Thank you for reading